The historic significance of the Sarah and Peter Clayes House
The house on Salem End Road (Framingham, MA) was built on the property that was settled in 1693 by Peter and Sarah Clayes, who had fled the witch hysteria that had terrorized Salem Village the year before. It is one of the most important historic houses in Framingham, as it was built on the site settled by some of the original incorporators of the Town, and it holds within its very walls vital lessons in architecture, history, social movements, even American legal practices.
The Salem witch hysteria has captivated the curiosity, fear and wonderment of the American people for generations. What is it about the story that inspires such disparate phenomena as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible on the one hand and the lion’s share of Salem’s tourism industry on the other? Perhaps it is our fascination with scapegoating and “group think,” or a natural interest in our cultural roots, or the very visceral fear of the unknown. Whatever it is, it is something we want to learn from, to preserve, and to understand.
The story of the witch hysteria was a deeply personal one for the families that were affected. Sarah and Peter Clayes — the builders of the house in Framingham — were some of those innocent people. Known in Salem as Cloyce, Sarah, along with her sisters Rebecca Nurse and Mary Esty and hundreds of others, had been accused and jailed for witchcraft. It is unknown why Sarah escaped the noose while her sisters were not so lucky. Whether she escaped or was set free from jail is not certain – but we do know that she and her husband Peter, along with members of her extended family, settled in an area 40 miles away, in the early part of the following year.
Their new home was in a region known as “Danforth’s Farms,” so named because it was owned by Thomas Danforth, Deputy Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony under Governor Simon Bradstreet. Danforth was, in fact, one of the magistrates who oversaw Sarah’s pre-trial examination in April of 1692.
We don’t know for sure the true connection between Danforth and Sarah and Peter Clayes. But what we do know is that Peter and Sarah, along with their brethren Towne, Barton, Bridges and Nurse, were among the first residents of a town newly-incorporated in the year 1700 as Framingham (after “Framlingham,” Danforth’s home in Suffolk, England); indeed, these surnames can be found in many early local government records as elected officials and leaders.
With a generous grant from Biddy and Bob Owens, we asked Preservationist Bill Finch to spend several days inside the house, assessing the historic elements of the architecture in each room. Click HERE to read his full report, along with interior and exterior photographs.